Anxious Washington Awaits News from Virginia Front

May 11, 1864

At night, Navy Secretary Gideon Welles joins President Lincoln and Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton at the War Department. Welles writes in his diary: “I met [Montgomery] Blair as I came from the Department, who wished me to go to his house. A letter from Governor [Edwin] Morgan asking me to name the month to which I would postpone the Union National Convention, if I desired a postponement, was received and answered by me this evening. It was a singular document and surprised me. I spoke of it to Blair, who said he had seen the circular last week. This gave me even great surprise, for Morgan has frequently consulted and interchanged views with me, both of us concurring against postponement. It was discussed by us at our last interview.”

Blair, as well as myself, was puzzled, but we both were willing to believe that no mischief was intended. The course of Thurlow Weed and some New York politicians has been singular. Blair took from his pocket a letter from Barlow of New York, a Copperhead leader, with whom, he informs me, he has corresponded for some weeks past. Barlow is thick with General McClellan, and Blair, who has clung also to McC, not giving him up until his Woodward letter betrayed his weakness and his ambition, still thought he might have military service, provided he gave up his political aspirations. It was this feeling that had led to the correspondence.

Historian Brooks D. Simpson wrote in Ulysses S. Grant: Triumph Over Adversity, 1822-1865: “The next morning Grant showed how unruffled he was. Elihu Washburne, about to return to Washington, asked Grant if he could carry any message back to Lincoln and Stanton. Grant remarked that while he was pleased with his progress so far, he didn’t want to raise false hopes of an early success. He then entrusted the congressman with dispatches for Halleck and Stanton – the first time he had written the war secretary during the campaign. He puffed away at a cigar as he scribbled out his messages, his head almost enveloped in smoke before he paused to blow it away – a process that he repeated several times as he thought and wrote.” Grant writes Lincoln:

‘We have now entered the sixth day of very hard fighting,’ he began his message to Stanton. ‘The result to his time is much in our favor. Our losses have been heavy as well as those of the enemy….I purpose to fight it out on this line if it takes all summer.’ The words were written without flourish; Grant buried similar language in his description of the situation to Halleck. Nor did they convey the sense that there had been missed opportunities to do so much more. Instead they stood out to anyone who read the message as a statement of his deep determination to see the thing through.

After the Battle of Yellow Tavern, General Philip H. Sheridan declared: “I could have gone in and burned and killed right and left, I could capture Richmond, if I wanted, but I can’t hold it. It isn’t worth the men it would cost.”

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